One of your major challenges as a boss is to fit together the conduct of your department and the emotional characteristics of your people. Doing this successfully requires knowing how to work with people, both individually and in groups.
There is no single formula for sound employee relations. Quite aside from a decent salary and a healthy work environment, there are certain things that almost all people, in varying degrees, want from their jobs.
Most employees have a keen desire for challenging work, an opportunity to use all of their talents. Give them assignments that not only permit them to realize this ambition, but require that they stretch themselves and perhaps discover strengths that they had no idea they possessed, and you will have gone a long way toward establishing the special employee-manager rapport that pervades the most successful business organizations.
They crave an opportunity for advancement. They want to feel that when a better job opportunity opens up, they will be given a fair chance at it. People vary greatly in their ambition and desire to get ahead, certainly, but your most valuable employees are likely to require that their jobs help them to grow as individuals. Promotions and other management support for advancement is one vital way to satisfy this need.
In this era of downsizing, incentives for taking early retirement and layoffs, they also crave a sense of security. They want to know that their jobs will still be there tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Above all, they yearn to feel psychologically secure within the group in which they work. They want to accept their fellow workers and be fully accepted by them and their managers.
Effective leadership is also important. They want to feel confident that their boss knows what his or her job is and how to do it, and is respected by others. They want to feel that the steering wheel on which their security and well being depend is in good hands.
Finally, high in their hierarchy of needs is a sense of participation. They want to feel that they are part of the team, not just hired hands.
Bear these desires in mind as you manage and you will go a long way toward eliminating areas of friction in the employee-manager relationship.
The Care and Feeding of Problem People
The law of averages virtually dictates that some of the people with whom you must work are not a pleasure to deal with. Yet, there they are and somehow you must find a way of getting along with them. Some common types, with suggestions on dealing with them:
People who think you’re telling them how to do their jobs and resent it. They may justifiably feel that they know their particular jobs better than anyone else. Make allies of them by letting them know that their experience and knowledge are recognized and valued; that the purpose of talking to them is to exchange ideas and pool experiences for the common good.
People who carry a personal grudge. Avoid discussions about their pet peeves. If necessary, explain that you are not interested in their personal prejudices, but in running a smoothly operating organization.
People who are wrong but won’t admit it. Avoid direct criticism, sarcasm and ridicule. Use indirect methods instead. For example, analyze a “similar case” without reference to them personally. Above all, talk to them in private.
Argumentative people. They quibble over the most trivial details and love to get other people’s goat. The primary rule: keep cool. Use questions to draw them out. When possible, cite hard facts and figures to refute their position.
Employees need feedback to assure them that they are on the right track.
Positive feedback in the form of recognition, praise or reward reinforces their drive to continue in the proper direction. Negative feedback—criticism, correction, discipline—teaches them what not to do.
Thus, praise and criticism are motivational guideposts of equal importance.
People need the assurance that they will be informed if their general performance falls below par. If they are sure they know how they stand with their boss, they have the confidence necessary for decisive action.
From a psychological point of view, people normally expect to be reprimanded when they have done wrong. Criticism relieves their guilt feelings.
Some people are not so conscientious, of course, and are less prone to feel guilty when they make a mistake. If these people are not criticized, they exploit what they perceive as a weakness on the part of their boss.
So don’t overlook the positive power of criticism. It can be an important motivator.
One secret of achievement: start. But that’s sometimes easier said than done, for most of us are positive geniuses when it comes to finding alibis for not starting a job. “It’s too complicated”; “We’re too tired”; “It’s too late to start now.”
Fortunately, there are remedies for procrastination. If you are prone to putting things off, one or more of these may be just what you need to get going.
Face unpleasant tasks squarely. Ignoring tough or unpleasant jobs only adds another psychological burden to them—the guilt of not doing. The only remedy is to bite the bullet and get it over with. It may be firing someone or cleaning out your desk. Whatever it is, face the fact that it won’t get done by itself. So dig in.
Break big jobs down to smaller ones. The modern assembly line owes it existence to Henry Ford’s belief that “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” That’s true. Want to accumulate wealth? If you are 35 years old now, a $2,000-a-year IRA earning 5% will be worth in excess of $200,000 by the time you reach 65. Whenever you’re faced by a seemingly overwhelming task, try to divide it into five or more sub-tasks and see for yourself how much less intimidating it becomes.
Get started. Have to write a 20-page report? Get the opening paragraph down on paper. Need to plan the month’s activities? Consider what you have to accomplish in the next few days. Anything you do to convince yourself that you are serious helps establish the momentum upon which real achievement depends.
Ride your moods. The old lament, “I’m not in the mood” can be put to work for—not against—you. For example, while you may not be in the mood to tackle the writing of that speech right now, you may feel like reading up on the subject. Remember the things you’ve been delaying and put your moods to work for you.
Make a commitment to someone you can’t afford to disappoint. Sometimes the mere act of going on record gives you the necessary motivation to do what you’ve been avoiding. Likely candidates: your boss, a colleague, your spouse.
Some people seem to have been born lucky. Friends go out of their way to help them. They get what they want. When things do go wrong, they have a knack for making them work out right. Upon analysis, however, it turns out that luck has very little to do with their good fortune. For these people have learned to make their own breaks. They don’t wait for things to happen; they make things happen.
They know their long-term goals. They know precisely what they want to happen and, consequently, avoid aimless drifting.
They have a plan. Knowing what they want, they can turn their energies to creating a master strategy. What’s needed? Money? People? What and where is the best source for what is required?
They examine their plan for bugs. Is it practical? Risky? Based largely on wishful thinking? They don’t fall in love with an idea just because it’s theirs. They examine it objectively for flaws.
They advertise. They aren’t above asking for others for help. Toward that end, they recognize the crucial importance of reciprocity—whenever possible, they go out of their way to do favors for others. Consequently, when the occasion arises, they feel free to call on friends for aid and advice. And they get it—cheerfully.
They don’t rest on their laurels. The “break-makers” are seldom complacent. Rather, with their goal achieved, they begin to chart the next one.
To a large extent, the written word, from E-mail to 50-page reports, keeps the wheels of industry spinning. Yet, there are some situations when it’s wiser to avoid putting your thoughts down on paper or up on a screen. For example:
When emotions are running high. When you’re angry, scared, or hurt—suffering from any negative emotion—postpone communications on the subject causing that feeling. Almost inevitably, your thinking is distorted and your judgment, foggy. When your emotional balance stabilizes, you may think differently. Even if you don’t, you will undoubtedly express yourself more effectively.
When you have nothing worthwhile to say. Most of us know keep down when we are blowing smoke and when we are saying something of value. Be brutally frank with yourself and save lot of embarrassment all the way around by asking yourself, “Am I really saying anything worthwhile here?” before sending out that memo. If the answer is no, face it and skip the message. Then, when you do have something of value to write, it will be read with interest and respect.
When face-to-face is better. “My boss asked for my written reaction to a lengthy report he’d sent out. Ordinarily, there would have been no problem. But I hesitated. I wasn’t clear on a number of points in the report. Nor was I always sure of his reasoning or his conclusions. I called and suggested we discuss the report over lunch. It made all the difference. He was able to clarify some key points, I understood what he was driving at, and I was able to make some useful suggestions. Without the give-and-take of conversation, none of that would have been possible.” What held true for this speaker could hold true for you.
Some people are overworked. But others are simply drained by worry over what has to be done. One of the major culprits in building up tensions is the nagging thought of the accumulated small jobs put off from day to day.
Here is a simple solution. Make a list of these undone jobs. Then start your next day by tackling a few of these nuisance chores. Before you know it, your list will be completed—if you keep at it. You will derive a feeling of accomplishment and your mind will be freed for important work.
Confession is not only good for the soul. In business, it can sometimes be a very effective strategy. Managers lose very little by admitting an error, unless it is a catastrophe, and stand to gain a great deal from their people.
Respect. By admitting your error, you lend credibility to those occasions when you know you are right. Your people will be less apt to challenge your judgment if they know you are as demanding of yourself as you are of them.
Improved morale. The manager who doesn’t set himself apart from his people by pretending to be infallible is almost certain to have a team working for him rather than a collection of individuals.
Better performance. One of the most effective ways to instruct and motivate is by example. Demonstrate that you value truth above excuses and that is what you will get from your people. If they know that you know that everybody, including yourself, is human, they will do their level best—no more, perhaps, but definitely no less.